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In game theory, an asymmetric game where players have private information is said to be strategyproof (SP) if it is a weakly-dominant strategy for every player to reveal his/her private information,[1]:244 i.e you fare best or at least not worse by being truthful, regardless of what the others do.

SP is also called truthful or dominant-strategy-incentive-compatible (DSIC),[1]:415 to distinguish it from other kinds of incentive compatibility.

An SP game is not always immune to collusion, but its robust variants are; with group strategyproofness no group of people can collude to misreport their preferences in a way that makes every member better of, and with strong group strategyproofness no group of people can collude to misreport their preferences in a way that makes at least one member of the group better off without making any of the remaining members worse of.[2]


Typical examples of SP mechanisms are majority voting between two alternatives, second-price auction and any VCG mechanism.

Typical examples of a mechanisms that are not SP are plurality voting between three or more alternatives, and first-price auction.

SP is also applicable in network routing. Consider a network as a graph where each edge (i.e. link) has an associated cost of transmission, privately known to the owner of the link. The owner of a link wishes to be compensated for relaying messages. As the sender of a message on the network, one wants to find the least cost path. There are efficient methods for doing so, even in large networks. However, there is one problem: the costs for each link are unknown. A naive approach would be to ask the owner of each link the cost, use these declared costs to find the least cost path, and pay all links on the path their declared costs. However, it can be shown that this payment scheme is not SP, that is, the owners of some links can benefit by lying about the cost. We may end up paying far more than the actual cost. It can be shown that given certain assumptions about the network and the players (owners of links), a variant of the VCG mechanism is SP.


There is a set of possible outcomes.

There are agents which have different valuations for each outcome. The valuation of agent is represented as a function:

which expresses the value it has for each alternative, in monetary terms.

It is assumed that the agents have Quasilinear utility functions; this means that, if the outcome is and in addition the agent receives a payment (positive or negative), then the total utility of agent is:

The vector of all value-functions is denoted by .

For every agent , the vector of all value-functions of the other agents is denoted by . So .

A mechanism is a pair of functions:

  • An function, that takes as input the value-vector and returns an outcome (it is also called a social choice function);
  • A function, that takes as input the value-vector and returns a vector of payments, , determining how much each player should receive (a negative payment means that the player should pay a positive amount).

A mechanism is called strategyproof if, for every player and for every value-vector of the other players :


It is helpful to have simple conditions for checking whether a given mechanism is SP or not. This subsection shows two simple conditions that are both necessary and sufficient.

If a mechanism is SP, then it must satisfy the following two conditions, for every agent :[1]:226

1. The payment to agent is a function of the chosen outcome and of the valuations of the other agents - but not a direct function of the agent's own valuation . Formally, there exists a price function , that takes as input an outcome and a valuation vector for the other agents , and returns the payment for agent , such that for every , if:


PROOF: If then an agent with valuation prefers to report , since it gives him the same outcome and a larger payment; similarly, if then an agent with valuation prefers to report .

As a corollary, there exists a "price-tag" function, , that takes as input an outcome and a valuation vector for the other agents , and returns the payment for agent For every , if:


2. The selected outcome is optimal for agent , given the other agents' valuations. Formally:

where the maximization is over all outcomes in the range of .

PROOF: If there is another outcome such that , then an agent with valuation prefers to report , since it gives him a larger total utility.

Conditions 1 and 2 are not only necessary but also sufficient: any mechanism that satisfies conditions 1 and 2 is SP.

PROOF: Fix an agent and valuations . Denote:

- the outcome when the agent acts truthfully.
- the outcome when the agent acts untruthfully.

By property 1, the utility of the agent when playing truthfully is:

and the utility of the agent when playing truthfully is:

By property 2:

so it is a dominant strategy for the agent to act truthfully.

Outcome-function characterization[edit]

The actual goal of a mechanism is its function; the payment function is just a tool to induce the players to be truthful. Hence, it is useful to know, given a certain outcome function, whether it can be implemented using a SP mechanism or not (this property is also called implementability). The Monotonicity (mechanism design) property is necessary, and often also sufficient.

Truthful mechanisms in single-parameter domains[edit]

A single-parameter domain is a game in which each player i gets a certain positive value vi for "winning" and a value 0 for "losing". A simple example is a single-item auction, in which vi is the value that player i assigns to the item.

For this setting, it is easy to characterize truthful mechanisms. Begin with some definitions.

A mechanism is called normalized if every losing bid pays 0.

A mechanism is called monotone if, when a player raises his bid, his chances of winning (weakly) increase.

For a monotone mechanism, for every player i and every combination of bids of the other players, there is a critical value in which the player switches from losing to winning.

A normalized mechanism on a single-parameter domain is truthful iff the following two conditions hold:[1]:229-230

  1. The assignment function is monotone in each of the bids, and:
  2. Every winning bid pays the critical value.

Truthfulness with-high-probability[edit]

For every constant , a randomized mechanism is called truthful with probability if for every agent and for every vector of bids, the probability that the agent benefits by bidding non-truthfully is at most , where the probability is taken over the randomness of the mechanism.[1]:349

If the constant goes to 0 when the number of bidders grows, then the mechanism is called truthful with high probability. This notion is weaker than full truthfulness, but it is still useful in some cases; see e.g. consensus estimate.


A new type of fraud that has become common with the abundance of internet-based auctions is false-name bids – bids submitted by a single bidder using multiple identifiers such as multiple e-mail addresses.

False-name-proofness means that there is no incentive for any of the players to issue false-name-bids. This is a stronger notion than strategyproofness. In particular, the Vickrey–Clarke–Groves (VCG) auction is not false-name-proof.[3]

False-name-proofness is importantly different from group strategyproofness because it assumes that an individual alone can simulate certain behaviours that would normally require the collusive coordination of multiple individuals.

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Vazirani, Vijay V.; Nisan, Noam; Roughgarden, Tim; Tardos, Éva (2007). Algorithmic Game Theory (PDF). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-87282-0. 
  2. ^ "Group Strategy-proofness And Social Choice Between Two Alternatives" (PDF). 
  3. ^ Yokoo, M.; Sakurai, Y.; Matsubara, S. (2004). "The effect of false-name bids in combinatorial auctions: New fraud in internet auctions". Games and Economic Behavior. 46: 174. doi:10.1016/S0899-8256(03)00045-9.